MISSOULA — Fall camp is underway for the 2021 college football season, but back in 2003, current Montana running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Justin Green was a running back himself for the Grizzlies after transferring into the school from San Diego Mesa College.
The regular season was wrapping up in 2003 when Montana hosted Eastern Washington. For Green, he had found a home at a school that gave him exactly what he was looking for in his first year as a Grizzly.
"It was the experience that I was looking for that I thought college football should be," Green said. "Between the fans the community and the guys on the team, that was a different experience coming from junior college and then before that San Diego State. It was everything I wanted it to be that I thought college football should be."
Green's season was strong up to that point, but on Nov. 15, 2003, he broke free for 175 yards and four touchdowns as Montana blew out EWU. To this day, Green is just one of five Grizzly running backs to rush for four touchdowns in a game.
The game was close in the first half, with UM holding a 17-10 lead at the break thanks to Green's first two scores. But the second half was a different story, as the Grizzlies outscored the Eagles 24-0, en route to a 41-10 win, as Montana's physicality wore their opponents down.
"The way that we did things, we were body blow, body blow, body blow," Green said. "And very few people could hang into that and that was kind of that game. You could tell when a team quits and shuts it down and they have to finish the game."
His best highlight came in the fourth quarter, a 37-yard touchdown run that he remembers well. Green found an opening in the defense and broke a pair of tackles before dragging two more defenders into the end zone.
But as skillful as the play was, Green said he still gets some grief from current Griz coach Bobby Hauck for what happened at the end.
"There was a long run where I kind of stiff-arm a guy and he grabbed my facemask and I fall into the end zone. Coach Hauck, still today, the ball came out when I crossed the end zone, and I still get flack for that, not holding onto the football, not thinking that ball security is important," Green said with a big laugh. "But, scored the touchdown and (we) ended up winning pretty well."
In 2003, Hauck was in his first season as the head coach of the Grizzlies during his first stint.
Montana exited the playoffs early in 2003 with a double overtime loss to Western Illinois. But the Griz went to the national championship game in 2004 when Green was a senior. In two seasons with the Grizzlies, Green finished with 1,784 career rushing yards which ranks 12th all-time in school history. His 22 career rushing touchdowns is tied for eighth all-time.
That 2003 season set the tone for Green as he learned the intricacies of the program, a place where he's now been an assistant coach since 2012.
"I was still getting immersed in Montana and the way they did things up here so to learn about the players, the pride and tradition of the program, I was still in the infant phases of learning that and really knowing kind of what that meant," Green said. "To again be here after that, I really kind of knew what it meant after playing that first Montana State game, that first playoff game, of how important football is to this community and to our players."
Grizzly Gridiron Classics
Missoula MTN affiliate KPAX-TV is airing classic Montana Griz football games on its new streaming app.
Each week, KPAX will air a different Griz game coupled with features and more from those who starred in those contests. This week we caught up with Green to talk about that historic game in 2003 against Eastern Washington.
Grizzly Gridiron Classics will air on Fridays at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time and again on Saturdays and Sundays at noon and 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time on the streaming app.